Pundits describe a fractured Republican party: the cult of Trump versus policy conservatives. This narrative compounds wishful thinking with ignorance of life outside the beltway, but has some truth. Trump, some say, is considering nurturing a third party.
The Republican establishment thinks they are more Republican than the Trumpists and have decades of battle scars to prove it. But they need him – whether he runs again or campaigns for others or is a strong voice. But for him the structural support of a party with a century and a half’s institutional memory can be helpful; most voted consistently with him. When Biden swears in 1000 appointees before his first full day in office, I worry that any Republican splits weaken a future Republican president’s hand. It is true that some of Trump’s best bets were ones the establishment would never have considered, but it is also true minor posts took a long time to fill.
The Trumpists need to accept that all of the people pulling back are not the sorry excuses for Republicans of the Lincoln Project, though they may not want to share a foxhole with them. Trump could have handled the last two months better and in not doing so, he irritated some, like McConnell, left to pick up the pieces. McConnell may be a Rino but he got those appointments through because he knew what he was doing. However, the establishment needs to remember, Trump nominated and backed them, their strengths came from their abilities rather than political resumes.
The establishment needs to be honest with itself. For decades the party promised and didn’t deliver, risks weren’t taken. They must acknowledge where Trump’s strength lay – at least in terms of the people I read, the people I know. It was policies. His actions – and boy did he act – in a Republican tradition. A good many people first voted for Trump as the better of two bad choices and came to see him as a transformative president. Some that hadn’t in 2016 said they’d crawl over broken glass to vote for him in 2020. Sure, some found him offensive, some had buyer’s remorse. He engendered turmoil and tension, though often in response to the wolves that circled him. (A baying that hasn’t stilled as he leaves the White House.) A resonant fact, however, is that many more voted for him in 2020 than in 2016. And the reason for most was, I suspect, what he’d done. Whether or why he lost, with 74 million votes he’s a force.
He was volatile and transparent. He wounded and was wounded. We winced at ad hominem attacks on his staff. He entertained. We were used to laconic heroes, but here was a man of action but also of emotional responses. But the four years – how and what he accomplished, the assumptions that made of his tenure a coherent whole – embodied instincts true to human nature and its potential. And that whole was conservative, American conservative.
He seemed to possess endless energy to push back while striding forward, he persevered. And his focus was on what counted: internationally, improving the United States’ ability to respond quickly and forcefully, to expand its frontiers; domestically, reducing the government’s (especially the national government’s) impositions and cleansing the unAmerican doctrines of tribalism parading as political correctness. In doing so, he implicitly respected his constituents. Are these not what they wanted, had wanted?